Jim Brown, police chief of Hudson, Ohio (pop. 5100), has no idea what, if anything, will happen when the Y2K bug kicks in, but he has spent the past six months reading books, listening to speeches, and looking at more than 1,000 web sites about Y2K in an effort to get ready.
'Responsible police administrators have absolutely no choice other than to plan for the worst-case scenario and hope, as you, for something significantly less,' Brown told members of the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem in April. 'It would be unacceptable and irresponsible to do anything less.'
Under Brown's direction, the Hudson police department has devised a master plan for dealing with emergencies of any type, be they tornadoes, floods, explosions or problems caused by microchips that are unable to recognize the difference between the years 1900 and 2000.
Brown sees Y2K as a 'vehicle for disaster planning and emergency preparedness,' an aspect of public safety he says has been overlooked too long, especially in areas not typically affected by natural disasters. Meanwhile, the country has become ever more dependent on technology to run basic utilities that most people take for granted.
'We just assume that every time we pick up the phone it's going to work,' he said. If it doesn't, people in Hudson at least know what to do. Under an emergency communications plan, residents first try calling 911. If the connection fails, they can dial a special nonemergency phone number. If that number doesn't work, they can dial the number for any one of three cellular phone lines dedicated to receiving emergency calls. In the event that all phone efforts fail, residents are encouraged to flag down a police officer on patrol or report to either the city's Safety Center (police department building) or to one of 19 'mini-reporting stations.'
The stations, staffed by community volunteers, will be based in buildings, school buses and privately owned vehicles at predetermined locations throughout the city. All volunteers will be equipped with reflective vests, city identification cards and magnetic signs for their vehicles that read 'Police Mini-Station.' According to the police department web site, stations will be activated within three hours of a citywide telecommunications disruption.
The city has designated its high school, which has an emergency power generator, as an emergency shelter.
People working at the shelter, like the police mini-stations, will be citizens of Hudson, donating their time through the city's Voluntary Involvement Program. Other program positions could include working as a dispatcher, security officer or medical aide. Applicants fill out a form to describe their skills and interests. Then in the event of an emergency, the police department will contact citizens as needed -- a sort of a 'don't call us, we'll call you' system, said Brown. 'The last thing you want is to have 500 people descend on your town hall when all you need is 50,' said Brown.
Brown has set up a meeting in September with all volunteers to give them more information. Currently about 35 applications have been submitted. Brown hopes to have as many as 200 volunteers signed up by autumn.
Like the rest of the people in Hudson, Brown is unsure of what, if anything, will happen on Jan. 1, 2000, but he and his officers plan to be ready to handle disruptions in city services and any resulting breaches of law. The department will step up its normal patrol of 4 or 5 officers to 10 officers, each working 12-hour shifts, to maintain increased coverage continuously from 6 a.m. on Dec. 31 through the morning of Jan. 4.
The safety of Hudson's citizens is worth the added cost in overtime pay, Brown said. 'If nothing happens, then nothing happens. I just can't afford to roll those dice.'
He encourages other police departments not only to create contingency plans but also to communicate them to its citizens. Hudson published an eight-page newsletter in April explaining its emergency plans. The flyer, called 'Our Town,' was mailed to all residents.
Brown invites community leaders to read the Hudson Police Department's on-line contingency plan and modify it for use in their own communities.
'I get tired of hearing people say, 'We're running out of time.' Even if you only have 30 days, you can use that to put at least some plans into effect,' Brown said.
The goal of every organization should be to have a feasible contingency plan in place well in advance of Dec. 31, he said.
The Hudson police department serves the town and a 25-square mile area outside with a total population of 23,000, located between the cities of Cleveland and Akron. Its emergency preparedness plan can be viewed on the Internet at www.hudson-oh-pd.org.
Contacts: Jim Brown, chief of police, Hudson Police Department, Hudson, Ohio, 330-342-1800; fax: 330-342-1821; e-mail: Jbrown1483@aol.com ; web site: http://www.hudson-oh-pd.org/
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